Asim Butt goes down in history as one of those artists whose work lives on stronger after his death. A well known artist in Karachi and beyond, his work was aimed at showing the underdogs of society, providing a glimpse into the world which many privileged people fail to see. He started the Karachi branch of the Stuckism International art movement, promoting figurative paintings in opposition to conceptual art.
Early Life and Education
Asim was a Karachiite from the very beginning and showed an interest in art from an early age. As with the majority of young adults his initial studies followed a traditional path by getting Bachelors in Social Sciences from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He also started a Ph.D. in history from UC Davis in California but left the program after two years. Asim also attended Li Po Chun United World College in Hong Kong.
Contribution to the Arts
Asim had participated in numerous group shows both in Karachi and abroad. He was known for working in multiple mediums including painting, sculpting, printmaking and graffiti as well. A few of his notable works and artistic movements include:
- Murals at Abdullah Shah Ghazi: Asim created two murals at this well known shrine, one was called 5 Ways to Kill a Man and was based off of America’s Shock and Awe campaign in Iraq. The second was about children he encountered while painting the first mural that sniffed glue to achieve a chemical high which helped them survive the day. Both these murals were white washed by the government.
- Eject Symbol: In 2007, when an emergency was declared by the military regime, Asim started the ‘Eject Symbol’ throughout Karachi. This symbol was a red triangle over a red rectangle which he spray stenciled throughout the city. The symbol was slowly seen in multiple parts of the city as an ‘art protest’. According to Asim it was a representation to:
“eject the military from the presidency. The sign could also be a red house (parliament dominated by the left) or simply a curious shape that reappeared in different parts of the city around the time of the emergency”
- Rebel Angel: In May 2011, Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi opened up an art exhibition specifically showing the variety of Asim’s work. It includes murals, drawing, paintings and photographs. An excellent gathering of the true diversity of his work.
Cause and Effect of Asim’s Demise
Though early reports were not able to confirm, it has been generally accepted that Asim committed suicide by hanging himself in his family home. The reasons for this tragic incident remain unclear. There have been a number of people who stated that his death is what caused his work to become popular. The simple yet popular Eject Symbol art protest is proof that his work was influential prior to his demise. The director of the Mohatta Palace Museum, Nasreen Askari sums up the effect extremely well. She says:
“His suicide brought into sharp focus his personality and assisted in our perception of his art. You see, he was good at satirising certain things that some artists tend to overlook. He painted the ills of society very well. He’d travel the streets, observe their darker aspects, empathise with the working class and try and jolt the rich out of their slumber.”